At some point during the War of 1812 Commodore Oliver Hazard reportedly said to William Harrison after the Battle of Lake Erie, “We have met the enemy and they are ours.” A jury trial is a legal war of competing stories. In most wars, the opposing sides are expected to fight the opposition and support their comrades to the bloody end. The idea of police supporting one another regardless of the facts and circumstances is so entrenched in American policing that it even has a name, “the Blue Wall of Silence.” In police culture, police never speak against other police officers and they certainly dare not testify against one another on the legal battlefield. And with the increasingly militarization of police departments in most recent times, with police acquiring military grade weapons, helicopters and armored personnel carriers designed for the battlefield, there has also been an increase of the “us versus them” mentality among police ranks where the police increasingly see everyday citizens as the enemy.
The Derek Chauvin trial was covered from opening statements to the final verdict on every media platform. With the eyes of the world focused on the trial, we witnessed things that are extraordinary in modern times. First, police are very rarely indicted and charged, let alone convicted of killing civilians. Second, because of the Blue Wall of Silence, police almost never testify against fellow police officers. However, in the Chauvin trial police officer after police officer took the stand to testify against one of their own. Why? It’s hard to say with complete certainty but it could be because of the horrific murder of George Floyd captured on video that led to worldwide protests of police violence. Perhaps it was the high-profile nature of the most watched trial since the O.J. Simpson trial. Or maybe it was the mounting pressure of calls to “Defund the Police?” The truth is that we may never know “the why” of the breach of the Blue Wall in this case but let’s discuss “the how” of it.
The Minneapolis police chief testified that “once there was no longer any resistance and clearly, when Mr. Floyd was no longer responsive and even motionless, to continue to apply that level of force to a person [on his stomach], handcuffed behind their back, that in no way shape or form is anything that is by policy.” The Chief’s testimony along with police training officers and other veterans on the police department served to effectively breach the Blue Wall of Silence and convict Derek Chauvin—the police literally played “good cop/bad cop” on the world stage before our very eyes. To put the breach in perspective, ten (10) Minneapolis police officers testified against Chauvin. The police are rightfully being lauded for testifying against Chauvin. However, it’s important to note that their testimony in substance was that yes, Derek Chauvin “was once one of ours” but that he lost his way. In other words, Derek Chauvin was a rogue cop whose actions were so far out of bounds that the Minneapolis Police Department essentially said, we have met the enemy and unfortunately, he is one of ours—this allowed them to throw Derek Chauvin under the bus but leave the bus intact.
In closing, I hate to be the bearer of bad news but in my humble opinion, the Chauvin trial means very little in the ongoing journey towards police reform which means that there is much work to do in order to make the Chauvin verdict the norm instead of the exception. If we were at a justice awards celebration and I was allowed to say a few words, in true Kanye West fashion, I’d offer this: “I’m gonna let y’all finish the celebration of the Chauvin verdict but the demise of the Blue Wall of Silence is greatly exaggerated and police violence in America is alive and well. So, even though justice prevailed for a moment, this victory means very little for future cases in which the entire world is not watching. And even high-profile police murder cases like Ahmaud Arbery, Andrew Brown Jr., Rashard Brooks, Adam Toledo, and too many others to name here still face the same long odds of justice being rendered—slim to none.”
Corey L. Scott, 1099 N. Meridian Street, Suite 150, Indianapolis, IN 46204 (317) 623-4546, www.coreyscottlaw.com; @coreyscottlaw.com